Houstonian Corner (Volume 13 Issue 36)

September 1, 2011 by · Leave a Comment 

AWAM Makes Houston a Leader in Traffic Technology

Houston, Texas (Jalopnik): A massive wall of video screens displays real-time images from a network of cameras, while employees look at a million points of data on their own computers. It’s Houston’s other mission control, and they’ve now got a new tool to combat congestion: your Bluetooth device.

Companies such as Trapster and Google use cell phone GPS information to monitor traffic conditions, with varying results, but no one has tried snatching real-time data directly from Bluetooth devices along a network of sensors the way Houston’s cutting edge TranStar traffic monitoring center is currently doing it.

Anonymous Wireless Address Matching (AWAM) takes the individual MAC address on Bluetooth-enabled systems like phones, hands-free devices, computers, and even Sony PSP Go gaming devices and tracks them as they enter a roadway equipped with a sensor.

If you’ve got your iPhone in your pocket and you drive along Interstate 45 leaving downtown Houston the system records a version of your MAC address.

When you cross another sensor it records you again, recognizing you as the same vehicle. It then takes your speed between the two points and averages it with everyone else passing through the same two points.

This new approach provides Houston with a cheaper, more accurate, and more detailed traffic view than other car monitoring systems such as Automatic Vehicle Identification (AVI) technology, which the region also uses to monitor traffic.

“[AWAM is] dirt cheap!” said David Fink, with the Texas Department of Transportation Houston District. “If our current multi-lane AVI sensors cost $75,000 on the cheap end to install, the most expensive version of the AWAM with solar power and Wi-Fi costs $8,000.”

The costs get even cheaper when the sensor can be added to a normal traffic box, averaging around $1,000 a piece, or 75 times less than a cheap AVI sensor. This potential savings was the main impetus for creating a new system, although it provides other advantages as well.

“Unlike other sensor methods, this system is asynchronous (continually asking and receiving information,” said Texas Transportation Institute Research Scientist Darryl Puckett. “Every (MAC) address detected is processed instantaneously.”

They’ve attempted to overload the system with MAC addresses but, at 6,000-per-second, the system still works. The more data, the more accurate, and the first set of sensors rolled in West Houston and along I-45 have produced a lot of data.

“The accuracy, once we developed an algorithm that eliminated the outliers, has been consistent because the accuracy of the data is absolute,” said Puckett, who says the system learns when a Starbucks or Verizon store is nearby skewing the data.

Houston TranStar says the data is also doubly secure from privacy invasion because the MAC addresses are given anonymous numbers in the system despite the fact that a MAC address on a bluetooth headset, for instance, isn’t something as simple to track like an IP address.

For individuals driving through the Houston area this means they can get up-to-the-second information on travel times between two points, either via the the TranStar website on the device that, itself, is giving information to TranStar, or on transportation information signs located along major interstates that spit out detailed information like “Travel time to 1960 from Betlway 8 is 13 minutes at 4:46 pm.”

While AWAM makes Houston a leader in traffic technology, the area’s strong economy, sprawling layout, and crazy accidents still makes Houston a leader in needing it.
Necessity is the mother of invention and Houston’s traffic is one big mother…

AWAM

Photo Credit: Eschipul, Houston Transtar

Bereavement: Inna Lil Lahae Wa Inna Illahae Rajioun

Houston, Texas: It is being informed with much sorrow and pains that eldest sister of Director of the Islamic Society of Greater Houston (ISGH) Southwest Zone Brother Moon Khan, has passed away in Pakistan. May God Bless her with Mughfirah & Janat-ul-Firdous and Give Immense Strength to the whole family to bear this immense loss (Aameen). One can reach Brother Moon Khan at 1-713-530-8034.

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Why Google Earth Can’t Show You Israel

June 16, 2011 by · Leave a Comment 

By Hamed Aleaziz

Since Google launched its Google Earth feature in 2005, the company has become a worldwide leader in providing high-resolution satellite imagery. In 2010, Google Earth allowed the world to see the extent of the destruction in post-earthquake Haiti. This year, Google released similar images after Japan’s deadly tsunami and earthquake. With just one click, Google can bring the world—and a better understanding of far-away events—to your computer.

There is one entire country, however, that Google Earth won’t show you: Israel.

That’s because, in 1997, Congress passed the National Defense Authorization Act, one section of which is titled, “Prohibition on collection and release of detailed satellite imagery relating to Israel.” The amendment, known as the Kyl-Bingaman Amendment, calls for a federal agency, the NOAA’s Commercial Remote Sensing Regulatory Affairs, to regulate the dissemination of zoomed-in images of Israel.

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Jihad Jane is Media Catnip

March 25, 2010 by · Leave a Comment 

By Dan Gardner, CanWest News Services

The name Colleen LaRose may not be world famous but the pseudonym LaRose allegedly used in an Internet-based terrorist plot certainly is. A Google search of Jihad Jane delivers 1,760,000 hits.

What makes that number especially impressive is that it was only last week that American prosecutors announced LaRose invariably described as a green-eyed blonde had been charged with conspiring to kill a Swedish cartoonist. To go from the obscurity to worldwide notoriety is no small feat. And Jihad Jane did it without actually committing a major act of terrorism. Or a minor act of terrorism. She did it, allegedly, by discussing a single murder.

Now contrast that with Andrew Joseph Stack. If you follow the news closely, the name probably rings a bell. He is the Texas man who became so enraged with the IRS and the American government that he climbed into the cockpit of his plane, flew to the IRS building in Austin, and nosedived. The building was mauled but, miraculously, only one person died along with Stack.

That was on Feb. 18. A Google search of Stacks name almost a month later came up with around 430,000 hits.

One person crashes a plane into a building in an attempt to commit mass slaughter and his crime gets some modest attention. Another expresses an intention to kill someone, is arrested, and gets vastly more reporting and discussion. That’s quite a discrepancy.

Is it because LaRose’s case is so much more important? Prosecutors suggested so. The arrest underscores the evolving nature of the threat we face, a U.S. Justice department official said. It shatters any lingering thought that we can spot a terrorist based on appearance, the chief prosecutor added.

But is that remotely true? Richard Reid, the bumbling shoe bomber, is half English and half Jamaican. John Walker Lindh, the American Taliban, is a Caucasian Californian. So is Adam Gadahn, a longtime al-Qaeda spokesman who changed his name from Adam Pearlman.

So what exactly is new about Jihad Jane? That she’s a woman prepared to murder in the name of Islam? There are plenty of those, unfortunately. Thats shes blonde? Well, yes. That’s different. But somehow I don’t think her arrest means terrorists of the future will look like Jan Brady.

So if its not the intrinsic importance of the case that explains why Jihad Jane is walloping Joseph Stack on Google, what does? One might think its the fact that LaRoses views are shared by many others and so she represents something bigger than the crime she is alleged to have committed. Andrew Joseph Stack was just some nut with a grudge and a plane.

But that doesn’t work either. Stack left a suicide note which was essentially a long anti-government tirade that bore a striking similarity to warnings in a Department of Homeland Security report issued in 2009. Domestic anti-government extremism was on the rise, the report noted, and there were growing suggestions it could turn violent. The situation was similar to that of the early 1990s, the report concluded, when right-wing extremism culminated in the 1995 bombing of a federal building in Oklahoma City killing 168 people and injuring hundreds more.

In the months and years after the Oklahoma City bombing, an immense amount of attention was paid to anti-government militias and other extremists. The Sept. 11 attacks erased that threat and replaced it with that of Islamist terrorism, but the reality on the ground didn’t change a great deal. It just wasn’t talked about. It still isn’t.

And that, I think, is what explains why Jihad Jane is winning the battle of Google.

The human brain is compulsive about making sense of things. It orders, categorizes, and systematizes. And once it thinks it decides something is settled, it works hard to keep it settled: It eagerly grabs onto anything that supports the existing understanding while avoiding, or waving off, anything that contradicts that understanding. Psychologists call this confirmation bias.

Now, what is terrorism? Mention that word and certain images come to mind, certain ideas and beliefs. That is the settled understanding of what terrorism is and who terrorists are.

In 1995, the horror in Oklahoma City shattered that understanding and created something new. After Oklahoma City, terrorism was about right-wing crazies. And in the years that followed, media reporting bolstered that understanding by seeking any tidbit of information, no matter how small, that supported it.

But then came Sept. 11, 2001, and the frame changed again. Terrorism was about Islamic religious fanatics.

If Joseph Stack had done exactly what he did for the same reason in 1996, the news coverage would have been massive and everyone in the world would know his name. But he did it in 2010, when he and his motives didn’t fit the popular narrative of what terrorism is.

But Jihad Jane fit the frame. Better still, she was superficially different. Thus, her story confirmed our fundamental beliefs about what terrorism is while it simultaneously delivered a delightful sprinkle of novelty catnip for the media. And that combination just happens to be a perfect formula for grabbing popular attention.

This is of more than theoretical interest, of course. Media coverage, and popular attention, is constantly distorted by the interaction of underlying assumptions and psychology. What we hear, read, and talk about is not a complete and objective reflection of reality.

Put it like that and anyone would say, well, no kidding. But ask people why they believe something to be true and, often as not, youll hear something like, its happening all the time. Just look at the news. See the problem?

As always, a little more skepticism is in order.

12-13

Cloning Virtual Box Machines

January 20, 2010 by · Leave a Comment 

By Adil James, MMNS

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Virtual Box is probably the best program, currently, for making virtual machines.  I haven’t tried the others, but I did Google the issue and by reputation it’s by far the fastest, and it’s free.  It’s made by Sun, so with the backing of such a major tech company you know it has to be pretty good.

I have had two virtual XP installations running at the same time on a dual core machine with 2.5 gigs of RAM.  I had a full load of other programs running as I recall, including Firefox (which sometimes eats a lot of memory).  They ran okay but did crash the machine (grinding everything to a standstill, which had never happened before)—still I am amazed at how well the whole thing functioned.

We happen to have several XP Pro licenses because we bought several machines brand new, some of which are now running other OSs.

An issue with Virtual Box machines is cloning, however.  It should actually be pretty easy to clone a machine, but actually it takes some doing.  So I am going to give you the solution that I came to after some effort and lessons learned.

Of course it’s a good idea to get the copy of the virtual machine into good shape (i.e.  activated if applicable, with the programs that you want, whatever settings you want, and all the updates run).  These instructions assume you have Virtual Box running on a Windows machine (here Windows 7 RC [sorry, I made a mistake, this is really windows XP running with a facelift (using Seven Remix) to look like W7… but I would think these basic principles still apply to W7 although I have not tested these directions under W7]), and in this case the Virtual Box machine I am cloning is also Windows (here XP).  This method uses a “non-documented” internal command of Virtual Box that could be turned off at any time by Sun but as of yesterday (January 19, 2010) and today too, it worked fine.  There is another way using a documented command (clonehd) but I used the non-documented command because I had already made a copy of the drive I wanted and the easiest thing seemed to be to just make it usable—and this way worked for me and made sense to me. 

Although we did this on a Windows machine it should be pretty similar and about as easy in another OS, for example in Linux it is pretty routine to work on the command line so should be easier I guess.  Most of the instructions on the web seemed like they were aimed at Linux/Ubuntu users so that is why I did this instruction set for Windows.  Should make it easier to follow the paths and figure out where the necessary files are.

I don’t know what will happen if you have snapshots of the drive you want to clone—I didn’t have any snapshots of mine.  In many directions the first step is to get rid of all snapshots.

Be careful because these virtual machines will eat a hard drive very quickly.  I have about four virtual machines and my C drive went from being healthy and half empty to being nearly filled to capacity in just a couple of days.

Sorry, you have to go to the command line to do this.

Here is step by step how to do it:

Before you begin you must make sure the virtual machine to be cloned is turned off.

 

1) Make a copy of the .vdi file for the machine you want to clone.  The path is:

C:\Documents and Settings\[user]\.VirtualBox\HardDisks\*.vdi

Just right click the file you want and copy it, giving the new file an easy-to-remember name, like for example “XP.vdi” is the original file and “XPCopy.vdi” is the new copy of it.  Paste the copy into the same folder.

 

2) Reset the user id of the copy. This is the part of the procedure that uses an undocumented command, namely “sethduuid” (here are the instructions I used but I will summarize below):

Open a command window:  Start – Run – type “cmd” in the box to open a black command window.

Type the following commands (filling in your user name in the [user] box) in the command window:

cd C:\Documents and Settings\[user]\.VirtualBox\HardDisks

“C:\Program Files\Sun\VirtualBox\VBoxManage.exe” internalcommands sethduuid XPCopy.vdi

In above command make sure the path is right on your machine, and don’t forget the quotation marks around the path to VBoxManage.exe.  Of course you will have to put the correct name of your copied hard disk image, in this example I used XPCopy.vdi (and in the actual demo below I used “XPCopy2.vdi”) but yours is likely different.

cleaned-83 copy 

 

 

3) Now you have to make a new Virtual Box machine and link it to your clone:

Open Sun Virtual Box … New … Next … [type the name of your clone machine and change the OS and version as necessary] … Next … [i just use the defaults] … Next … click “use existing hard disk” and click the folder button, click “Add” and browse to the new .vdi file (in my example mine is XPCopy.vdi) … click “Open” … Select … Next … Finish

Ha.  You’re all done.  Start that new clone up and you’re in business.  I just followed these steps myself and it all worked but in case I left out a step or something please leave a comment on this article, which will eventually come to my attention.

 

I love your comments so whether you want to say thanks or want to say this doesn’t work for you or something please add a comment.

 

Errors:

1) I renamed a copy then stored the copy on an external drive then brought the .vdi copy back to the VirtualBox/HardDisks folder, and when I tried to reset the user id and got the error message “VERR_FILE_NOT_FOUND”. 

I kept getting this error, but not now…

I suspect I was not in the “HardDisks” subdirectory and this is why I was getting this error.  You must be in the correct directory where you have the copy before this sethduuid command will work.

2) The whole reason I realized the importance of resetting the user id was because I got the error “Cannot register the hard disk…” “UUID … already exists in the media registry”  when I tried to link to a .vdi image from a new machine, but without first going through the procedure of resetting the user id.  The user id is attached to each virtual box image by Sun, not Microsoft.  You cannot just copy another virtual machine’s hard disk and then start a new virtual machine and link to it, you’ll get the user id error.

Graboid Spyware

January 4, 2010 by · Leave a Comment 

Be careful with Graboid.  If you google “Graboid spyware” you will see false reports that Graboid does not try to install any spyware, however if you have Spyware Doctor installed (free from google) it will catch a “high risk” item that appears right after Graboid has finished installing.

As of this writing that seems to be enough to block all malware from Graboid—there does not appear to be other malware packaged with it, however no guarantees for the future.

Other than the issue of malware, it appears that Graboid has improved a lot since earlier versions.

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AdMob’s Founder Omar Hamoui

November 19, 2009 by · 1 Comment 

omar-hamoui Google Inc.’s announcement that it will buy AdMob Inc. for $750 million brought a media spotlight on Accel Partners, an investor in both AdMob and Playfish Inc., which said today it will sell to Electronic Arts Inc. for at least $275 million. Several blogs, including this one, hailed Accel Partners for its impressive and quick investment returns at a time when deals like these are hard to come by.

But AdMob’s founder and CEO, Omar Hamoui, really deserves the attention for building a company that in three years became the largest player of mobile Web ads and ultimately, a coveted jewel for the largest Internet company.

Jim Goetz, a partner at Sequoia Capital and the first investor in AdMob, was quick to praise Hamoui, telling VentureWire that the entrepreneur “has a very keen perception of mobile and a very unconventional approach. All the things you hear today, since the iPhone, about the independent developer – Omar identified that community years ago.

“He kept a maniacal focus on the independent developer,” Goetz continued. “He ignored the carriers, he ignored the ‘walled garden.’ When he started, there was no economy around mobile. It was the inception of this market. He’s a special entrepreneur, and he built an extraordinary business in a short time.” (It’s worth noting that Sequoia has added a picture of Hamoui on its sparsely decorated home page as a tribute to him.)

Hamoui, 32, dropped out of the Wharton School to start up AdMob in January 2006 in an effort to find the best platform for bringing Internet advertising to cellphones. As the story goes, Hamoui originally built a mobile service in 2005 called Fotochatter designed to let people easily share their online photos with friends who can view and comment on them through their mobile phones. But he found it difficult to market the mobile service online, so he set out to start another company to help advertisers do just that.

Hamoui’s first hire was Russell Buckley, now AdMob’s head of European operations, who originally reviewed Fotochatter on his blog MobHappy years ago. That blog is how the pair connected. Earlier this year in May, Buckley reminisced about that chance encounter in a blog post and added: “Over 80 Billion ads and 3 years later, we’ve come [a long] way since then, have over 100 employees and a valuation at least in the hundreds of million dollar range.”

Buckley then posted a short series that shared “some of the lessons [Hamoui] learned” while building AdMob. While we wait to hear back from Hamoui about the Google deal (he commented on his blog here), we found it useful to direct our entrepreneur readers to Buckley’s blog posts which tap into the mind of Hamoui, who offers his thoughts on company launches, deals and negotiations, sales and marketing, competitive threats and communication.

As an example, and in light of the Google acquisition, here are Hamoui’s short pieces of wisdom about deals and negotations, as written by Buckley who adds his comments:

Understand what you really have to lose (which is usually not much)

If you are a person with a laptop and an idea, don’t worry about messing up the 100m dollar business you think you will someday be.

Russell adds: It’s hard to emphasise how important this is. In reality, most people have very little real downside to having a go and even if the idea doesn’t work out (and most don’t let’s remember) you’ll still learn a ton, which will add considerably to your value in business.

I’d also add, on a related note, that far too many entrepreneurs get paranoid about protecting their idea to the point of paralysis. The value of most ideas is in the execution, not in what the concept actually is. To make it reality, you need to share it – actually, with as many people as possible, counter-intuitive though this might seem. And in my view, forget about NDAs and the like. They’re pretty useless all round as far as I’m concerned, but for one man and a laptop, a total waste of time and effort, which at best just create speed breakers for your idea.

Leave something on the table

If your partner feels as good as you walking away from the table, you are much more likely to have a successful relationship.

Russell adds: This is so important. Many self-proclaimed “great deal makers” focus too much on getting the best for themselves and wonder why the relationship falls apart or never achieves its potential.

Wait until the rubber hits the road to evaluate a deal

Don’t get too excited until the results actualize. Most deals are not as good as they look on paper.

Russell adds: Oh yes. If I had a penny….etc

It’s also worth remembering that many of the best deals come from existing relationships with partners or customers. This isn’t as sexy as hunting down the big mammoth stomping around in the jungle, but effective account management is a skill you ignore at your peril and every company could improve this aspect of their operation.

The Google offer no doubt looked good on paper. Hamoui will be staying on with AdMob and Google for now, but you can bet once he’s ready to move on to start another company, venture capitalists will be lining up to invest.

If you want to hear more from Hamoui, below is a one-year-old, half-hour interview by Robert Scoble who around the two-minute mark gets Hamoui to talk about his negotiations with venture investors, including Sequoia Capital, which invested in the company in 2006. Hamoui said he was introduced to Sequoia after he didn’t like a term sheet from another venture firm. On a Thursday night, he flew out to meet Sequoia, even though he had until Friday to decide whether to accept the other firm’s offer. Within 24 hours, Sequoia offered Hamoui a competing term sheet and he signed it two minutes before the other offer’s deadline. Sequoia’s partners deserve credit for seeing something in Hamoui, who was the only employee of the company.

“I had to do the pitch [to Sequoia] like four or five times,” he tells Scoble, “because it has to be a unanimous decision. Every partner has to see it, and every partner has to vote yes otherwise they won’t do it….The overall market opportunity is extremely substantial. And they tend to be market investors, so they’re whole theory is that if the market is spectacular, even a sub-optimal product with a sub-optimal team will do fantastically well. Not that, hopefully, we are either.”

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How to fix… Firefox Bing. Fix the search feature in the “url bar” aka “location bar”…

June 8, 2009 by · 11 Comments 

These directions are for firefox 3.0.10 but should probably work for other versions.

 

If your firefox url location bar suddenly gives results from Bing instead of Google and you want Google back again, here is how you can switch it back:

 

typeabout:config” in the url bar… clickI’ll be careful, I promise!” in the “This might void your warranty” notification box.

typekeyword” in the “filter bar”

you should now have a few choices—right click on “keyword.URL” … clickmodify” … paste the following text into the box …

http://www.google.com/search?ie=UTF-8&oe=UTF-8&sourceid=navclient&gfns=1&q=

 

** We have now tested these directions which in theory looked like they would work, and they worked great **.

 

/ p.s.  try this is at your own risk! /

/ if some problem happens, don’t call us–but we did it ourselves and only had good results/

 

Good luck.

Yamli’s Powerful Arabic Search Engine Continues To Innovate

December 16, 2008 by · Leave a Comment 

Courtesy Jason Kincaid, TechCrunch on December 15, 2008

Yamli, the Arabic transliteration search engine that allows users to easily search for Arabic phrases using their Latin keyboards, has launched a revamped version of its site that introduces a number of enhancements, including a way to automatically search for phonetically similar words that are spelled differently – a significant feature that could further bolster Yamli’s position in this still-fledgling space.

Because there is no ‘correct’ way to convert Arabic to Latin text, most words have multiple possible spellings (a fact readily visible on most major news networks). In the past Yamli has tried to automatically pick the best possible spelling, but these searches often missed out on possible relevant matches that used alternate spellings.

Yamli co-founder Habib Haddad says that search engines like Google can already correct for this for popular queries (especially names) using databases of alternative spellings, but that these are generally determined by human linguists and don’t work on less common or more generic words. Haddad says that using the millions of search queries that have been conducted on Yamli since its launch, the site can automatically determine synonymous words without any human intervention.

The new version of Yamli also introduces image search powered through Microsoft’s Live Search API, video search from YouTube, and Wikipedia search (the main text search is still powered by Google). Yamli has also added a two-column view that presents English and Arabic matches simultaneously (the two languages are separated because they are read in opposite directions).

There are a few other players in this space, including Onkosh and Google’s own competing service.